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  • Species: Ancistrus dolichopterus

  • Species: Ambastaia sidthimunki

  • Species: Corydoras loretoensis

  • Species: Corydoras aeneus

  • Species: Hemiloricaria lanceolata

  • Species: Hypoptopoma gulare

  • Species: Pangio kuhlii

  • Species: Traccatichthys taeniatus

  • Species: Corydoras robinae

  • Species: Synodontis flavitaeniatus

Community Catfish and Loaches at The WaterZoo

28 May 2018

The WaterZoo in Peterborough is regularly included amongst the best aquarium shops in the country. It's not just the generous selection of livestock on sale that's secured that reputation, but the helpful and well trained staff as well, so that anyone visiting The WaterZoo can expect good service and top-notch advice. While you're there, look out for the informative posters and free leaflets that will help aquarists make good choices when it comes to setting up an aquarium and choosing suitable livestock.

Of course while the store is very well stocked with bread-and-butter community species including barbs, tetras and livebearers, there are also lots of fish here to interest more advanced aquarists looking for something a bit different. Catfish and loaches are a particular strength, and in this article we're going to look at some of the many catfish and loach species available at the moment, some of which, as we'll see, could work very nicely in community or mixed species set-ups.

The WaterZoo is not far from Peterborough city centre. For more about the store, visit The WaterZoo page elsewhere on this site.

Bristlenose Plec, Ancistrus dolichopterus 'German Red'

Alongside the hardier Corydoras species, the Bristlenose Plec is perhaps the best choice for use in the average community tank. Although relatively shy, this South American catfish will move about during the daytime once settled, especially if kept in well-planted tank alongside peaceful midwater fish. It is not fussy about water chemistry, doing well in even fairly hard water conditions, but it doesn't like excessively high temperatures. Indeed, a temperature range of 22-25 degrees C not only suits this catfish well but is also ideal for a wide range of other community fish including danios, swordtails, platies, neons and almost all Corydoras catfish.

The standard Bristlenose is dark grey with white spots when young, becoming more mottled brown once it grows up. A 'Gold' (probably albino) form is quite widely sold, but more interesting perhaps is the reddish-brown 'German Red' form in stock at The WaterZoo. All can be expected to reach a maximum length of around 12 cm or so if well looked after, and in good conditions Bristlenose Plecs will breed freely, even in community tanks. Note that while these catfish are first-rate algae eaters, they will need some proper feeding as well, algae wafers in particular making excellent staples alongside occasional offerings of things like bloodworms and chopped shrimp.

Whiptail Catfish, Hemiloricaria lanceolata

This species (also listed as Rineloricaria lanceolata in some books) is another South American catfish very well suited to quiet community tanks. Like all whiptails it has a long, slender body well adapted to hiding in the leaf litter over sandy substrates, but despite its excellent camouflage this catfish is not all shy. Provided its tankmates are small, gentle species it will be out and about all the time, inching itself across the sand using it's pelvic fins and tail almost like crutches! Males are slightly territorial, but aggression is limited to threat displays, so it's well worth keeping this species in a small group.

Few catfish are as entertaining to watch, and despite its delicate appearance, this catfish is actually quite tough and adaptable. Water chemistry isn't a major issue, and it does well across a broad temperature range that means it'll get along well with most small tetras, rasboras and livebearers. Whiptails aren't algae eaters though, despite being members of the suckermouth catfish family. Instead, offer them a nice variety of sinking foods including things like small catfish pellets and frozen bloodworms.

Giant Otto, Hypoptopoma gulare

Various small Otocinclus species are traded regularly, but this much larger Hypoptopoma is only rarely seen in aquarium shops. Although it looks a lot like a large, relatively plain-looking Otto, at around 10 cm when fully grown these catfish are a great deal more impressive. Their adult size means they're great choices for life alongside medium-sized tetras and barbs that might intimidate the Otocinclus spp.

In terms of general care, in some respects they resemble their smaller cousins. Relatively soft water is helpful; aim for 1-15 degrees dH, pH 6-7.5. They are presumably aufwuchs feeders in the wild too, so a few open areas for algal grazing should be provided, but otherwise a mix of algae wafers and small invertebrates seems to suit them well. Like Otocinclus they appreciate moderate temperatures, brisk currents, and lots of oxygen. Consistently good water quality is a must. On the other hand, whereas Otocinclus are highly gregarious and do badly in small groups or single, Hypoptopoma tend to be a little territorial under aquarium conditions. It may well be they live in large schools in the wild, so if you're only able to keep 2-3 specimens, do ensure there is plenty of swimming space and a few hiding places as well.


With at least 24 species and varieties of Corydoras in stock at The WaterZoo at the time of writing, aquarists interesting in this lovely group of catfish are bound to find something of interest.

With one or two exceptions, Corydoras are well suited to community tanks. Water chemistry isn't a critical factor, though softer water is preferred. What does matter is that water temperature shouldn't be too high, 22-25 C being preferred by most species. Similarly, a soft substrate, such as lime-free sand, is the best choice, though smooth, fine gravel isn't too bad either. Avoid sharp sand or coarse gravel though, as this tends to wear down their barbs and make them more prone to bacterial infections, especially around the face and belly. Corydoras are invariably social catfish, and need to be kept in groups of at least 5-6 specimens.

Among the species we're particularly pleased to see in stock is the Orange Stripe Corydoras, generally assumed to be a geographical variety of Corydoras aeneus native to Peru. Like typical Corydoras aeneus (also known as Bronze Catfish) this catfish is metallic green on its flanks, but unlike that species, it sports a bright metallic orange band running from behind the eye, arching up and across the flank, before terminating just below the adipose fin. While an eye-catching catfish by any standards, this species is otherwise hardy and adaptable.

The Loreto Corydoras, Corydoras loretoensis, is a relatively rarely traded member of the genus. Adult specimens are essentially white with dark grey speckles, but with a slender build and a maximum length of around 4-5 cm, they are among the smaller species in the genus. Of course their small size and completely peaceful nature means they're great choices for community tanks containing the smaller and more docile tetras, barbs and rasboras.

Finally, Mrs Schwartz's Corydoras, Corydoras robinae, rounds off our look at the more than twenty Corydoras available at The WaterZoo. It's a very distinctive species readily identified by the flag-like arrangement of black and white horizontal stripes on the tail fin. The body is otherwise silvery green-grey with more or less horizontal rows of not-quite-circular green-grey patches. This is one of the bigger, more robust species that gets to about 7 cm in length, but like all Corydoras, it's a peaceful, sociable community fish.

Pyjama Catfish, Synodontis flavitaeniatus

The African genus Synodontis includes many species that have proven themselves to be robust and long-lived aquarium fish, though their social behaviour does vary considerably. A few are sociable, but most are territorial to some degree when mature, and a few are sufficiently truculent they make difficult additions to community tanks. The Pyjama Catfish is one of the exceptions though, despite its relatively large adult size, around 12-15 cm being typical under aquarium conditions. It also happens to be quite nicely coloured too, with irregular yellow and red patches on the off-white bands covering its otherwise grey-brown flanks and fins.

While big enough it's going to view small tetras like Neons as food, this species is a perfectly reasonable choice for use alongside larger community fish as Three-Spot Gouramis or Angelfish. It would be even better in a community tank with an African theme, where it would cohabit nicely with things like Congo Tetras and Kribs. Maintenance is not hard, and like most Synodontis it is very adaptable with regard to water chemistry and will enjoy a mixed containing both green foods and small invertebrates alongside the usual flakes and pellets.

Peppermint Loach, Traccatichthys taeniatus

The Peppermint Loach is a Vietnamese species that is only infrequently imported, so it's appearance at The WaterZoo is noteworthy. It is a typical loach in shape, well adapted to living in fast-flowing streams where it can forage for insect larvae and small crustaceans. Adult specimens are up to 12 cm in length, greenish-grey for the most part but with a vivid metallic green band running along their flanks, and a rosy pink region across their bellies. Their fins are red or orange, and there is a distinctive black eyespot on the base of the tail fin.

Peppermint Loaches are gregarious and peaceful, and need to be kept in groups of at least 5-6 specimens and away from more overtly territorial bottom feeders. On the other hand, they cohabit well with peaceful midwater fish that appreciate relatively cool water and brisk water currents, such as danios, minnows and swordtails. Like most loaches, these fish are 'jumpy', so ensure the tank is securely covered.

Dwarf Chain Loach, Ambastaia sidthimunki

Formerly known as Yasuhikotakia sidthimunki, this small loach only gets to about 6 cm in length, and while one of the normally quite feisty botiine loaches, it's a relatively placid species that works well in community tanks. So while never as commonly seen as Corydoras catfish for example, recent advances in captive breeding has meant this charming loach is more available now than it has been in the past.

In terms of care, the Dwarf Chain Loach is not too fussy. Reasonably brisk water currents and plenty of oxygen are the two most important things to get right, and in a clean, well-maintained tank these loaches don't pose too many problems. They do need to be kept in a group of at least 5-6 specimens, and away from larger or more aggressive bottom feeders, but otherwise eat all the usual sinking foods and get along well with small to medium-sized community species including barbs, tetras, rasboras and gouramis.

Kuhli Loach, Pangio kuhlii

Last but certainly not least is this classic community tank loach. It's certainly distinctive, with its slender, eel-like body up to around 10 cm in length and it's orangey-pink body marked with brown saddle-like markings. In all fairness, there are probably a good half dozen species more or less similar to this one, and precisely which species is offered for sale at any one time is up for debate. Fortunately, all seem to be pretty similar in terms of care, ensuring their enduring popularity.

In any case, the species we call Kuhli Loaches are not hard to keep. The main challenge is keeping them in the tank, as they do tend to jump out of open-topped systems. Otherwise they'll adapt well to a broad water chemistry range (1-15 degrees dH, pH 6-7.5) and happily take all the usual sinking foods including flakes and pellets. They are nocturnal by nature, and can be very shy if kept singly, but in groups of 5-6 specimens they'll feel much more secure and will often be seen poking their heads out of some suitable cave or burrow. Kuhli Loaches are completely peaceful, and should only be kept with other small, gentle species.